"I cannot believe he didn't tell me about this." Cassandra paced up and down, irritably balling up her fists.
It took a moment for Nehna to realise she was talking about Hawke's presence and not the brief fallout in the tavern. "I'm sure he was only doing what he thought was right," she began when Cassandra turned back to her, eyes blazing.
"That dwarf never does what he thinks is right," she snapped. "He must think life goes as simply as one of his stupid books. He never thinks at all, and he just assumes his glib tongue will coast him through any problems that arise. Not anymore." She stormed off, aggressively clasping her sword, and Nehna shook her head and sighed.
When did it come to this? Cassandra and Varric had never exactly been best friends before joining the Inquisition, from what she could tell, and being held as a more or less of a Chantry prisoner to recite his story at the Conclave probably hadn't helped matters much. They had always edged somewhere uneasily between bickering and banter, complete with Cassandra's sighs of frustration that the other woman now assumed were theatrically exaggerated for the benefit of their audience... but this was different. Nehna had seen the look in the Seeker's eyes, and if looks could kill...
She gulped and went in search of Sera. Her lover would know what to do, Nehna hoped, and she would be able to find a good distraction that made everyone laugh, even if only briefly. If anyone's good at smoothing ruffled feathers, it's her... Then again, maybe I'm a little biased.
Only a little, though.
"Sounds like they just need to talk it out, you know. Varric's good with words. I'm sure they'll figure it all out without taking half of Skyhold with them, so just relax, you idiot." Those were Sera's words as she gave her lover's back reassuring strokes. "Maker, you wind yourself up over everyone's business enough. You're the Inquisitor. You're saving the bloody world, but you don't need to solve every argument that crops up either."
She shook her head, chuckling. "You're too good for your own good. That's the problem. You want to make everything perfect without thinking how it might affect you. Or them, actually, now I come to think of it. You can't fix everyone's shite for them."
"You're sure, vhenan?" Nehna wasn't convinced. Cassandra's eyes had been blazing, and she had wondered for a second if the other woman was going to start a violent crusade against Skyhold's favourite storyteller. He may have been able to weave words together the way a chirurgeon could knit wounds like magic, but it would seem words alone wouldn't solve this, and without his best weapon at hand, she feared the situation might get very bad, very quickly.
Cassandra would never hurt Varric, she knew... or at least hoped. She couldn't safely assume anything anymore; Nehna hadn't known Varric would smuggle in one of the most famous people in Thedas to Skyhold, either, which made a mockery of their security in hindsight, she realised glumly.
"More than sure. More certain that you making Coryphyshit kick the bucket with a big splash, because you're going to paint the ground with him. I know that much, and I know this will all blow over soon, too." Sera rolled her eyes. "You're no good at relaxing, are you, love? Just taking things easy for once. You're hopeless at it." She gave her a grin. "Well, that's what I'm here for. Massage out the tough kinks and maybe teach you to laugh every so often. I think I've got pretty good at making you relax, haven't I?"
"Oh, certainly. And in more ways than one," Nehna winked before letting out a big sigh. "I just... I can't have this kind of fighting in the Inquisition. We can't function if people are at each other's throats, and normally you can resolve it all with a cool down time or smoothing things over with free drinks. You know, relatively civil, and then everything is right as rain again."
She shook her head. "Creators, I'm trying to save the world and I can't even get my own people to be honest with me? Would it have killed him to tell me Hawke was coming instead of this cloak-and-dagger bullshit because he wanted a dramatic surprise? And now Cassandra might actually kill him? Fuck."
Sera knew that look. Her lover was dangerously close to losing it and sobbing. She never usually swore much either, which just showed how much it was getting to her. I swear to bloody Andraste if the two of them haven't sorted it out by sunset, I'll knock their heads together until they have to, Sera thought bitterly. Nobody made her honey tongue this upset without risking their breeches... or worse. She'd gut the lot of them if it made Nehna happier again, because the sight of such a sunny and loving face reduced to tears made her world come crashing down to ash about her ankles, and by the Maker wherever He'd fucked off to, she'd make them all pay for it.
"Hey, Inky," she said gently. "Nehna." At the sound of her name, the other woman turned around to look back at her. Sera noticed her mouth wobbling, but so far no tears had fallen yet. That was a good sign, at least, even if she was worryingly near the brink. "I'm still here, aren't I? We'll make this all better, I promise." She gently took her lover's hand and gave it a kiss before squeezing it. "It's going to be alright. No dwarves murdered on my watch."
Nehna laughed. It wasn't exactly a laugh full of laughter yet, more of a hesitant and nervous sound, but it was a start. "I'd prefer if no dwarves were murdered on anybody's watch, to be frank, but I trust you." The returning squeeze was softer, but Sera knew she was getting through to her.
"See? No bloodshed, no bruises, no cataclysmic arguments. Maybe a bit of 'How could yous' peppered in with a bit of 'fuck' and 'shite' and 'Maker take you,' and then we'll all be on our merry way back to 'I'm sorry, let's forget this ever happened,' right? Actually, I don't think Cassandra would ever say 'shite,' but... well, you get the idea." She laughed. "You're the wordy one here, not me, but I can try sometimes, yeah?"
The two women exchanged loving smiles.
"You're right." Nehna exhaled, smile growing wider. "I'm lucky I have you to take the weight off my shoulders once it all starts growing. They don't even have that."
"Right? They're unlucky bastards. Serves them right for picking a fight, anyway." Sera giggled. "I've got you, and you've got me. We'll be some kind of power couple, a force to be reckoned with. They'll all be on their knees and worshipping the ground we shit on."
"A power couple? Really?" Nehna raised an eyebrow.
"Well, you're no empress or whatever, but you're the Inquisitor. Everyone who matters wants to have your ear to bore your teeth out, but you matter, too. And as for me... well, I know how to stick arrows where they count." Sera mimed shooting an arrow, aiming it into Nehna's heart.
"My heart, is it? I thought your preferred target was 'up their arse'." Nehna did her best rendition of her lover's voice, and Sera dissolved into laughter.
"That the best you can do? Oh, Inky. You're a loony, you are." She gave her a grin that made Nehna's heart wobble. "My loony. The best kind there is."
"And you're the reddest of the Red Jennies, the most fearsome archer this side of the Dales."
"The Dales, huh? They've got nothing on me. I'll match them arrow for arrow, and I'll win every time."
"I know you would. And you will." Nehna rested her head on Sera's shoulder, and the other woman gave it a gentle stroke. "Besides, you didn't miss your mark with me, did you?"
"Hush, you. You're soppier than a ruddy Orlesian." She kissed Nehna's forehead, and the two of them sat together with their fingers intertwined, gazing out from the rooftop.
The reverie didn't last for long. As happy as Nehna was to be with Sera, she couldn't wipe the argument from her mind, tossing and turning. Sera shook her head half in frustration as Nehna groaned into her shoulder, patting her as she stood up and offered her hand to help her lover to her feet.
"Alright. Come along then, Inky. We'll use your honey tongue to put it all right again."
Nehna stared at her, dazed for a moment. Then she broke out into a grin and whooped, giving Sera a crushing hug that she returned with a chuckle.
"What's all the excitement for, eh? I saw how worked up you are, and it wasn't even the fun kind of worked up." She shrugged. "So if it makes you feel better to watch them scream and curse at each other and try and stop them splitting their skulls open, be my guest. But I'll come with you, because I know this is just a small dose of the loony shite I signed up for, and I can help ease your mind later on if it all goes to shit."
"You're the best woman in all of Thedas, Sera," Nehna told her, peppering her cheek with kisses. "Thank you," she whispered.
Her lover blushed slightly. "Maker, you're that relieved about it? Guess you were more wound up that I realised." She sighed. "Well, let's go and find them, then. We'll just follow the sound of explosions."
Hand in hand, they went back to Sera's tavern room and went downstairs into the courtyard, pausing to listen.
Nehna shook her head. "I don't hear anything," she began to say, until the sound of curses rang out from the armory.
"Found them," Sera giggled, half forgetting the seriousness of the situation, and the two of them scampered through the door, looking around to see where Cassandra and Varric had got to. They found them upstairs.
"Fucking hell," Sera whistled, but neither of them seemed to notice.
Cassandra had Varric by the collar of his shirt, and she was clawing at him with her free hand. By the looks of things, she'd managed a few decent punches before they'd got there; Varric looked winded and was trying desperately to move out of her reach, but Nehna knew how strong the warrior was. She had hands like iron, and right now they were dead set on tearing him to pieces.
"You liar!" Cassandra yelled. Her fist was getting dangerously close to Varric's face. "You knew where Hawke was all along!"
The dwarf scrambled free, wincing. "Damned right I did! Maker, Cassandra, did you have to be so rough -"
"Enough." Nehna was using her Inquisitor Voice, loud and authoritative; nobody argued back when they heard that tone. Even Sera was half-afraid of her lover when she used it. It was almost like the gentle, caring Nehna became an entirely different person, transforming into someone stern, firm and fiercer than a battering ram, and nobody dared to stand in her way.
Varric looked like he was on the verge of saying something back when she surged forwards, eyes flashing. "I said enough." He backed down, walking backwards with his hands up in a placating gesture. "Cassandra, back down." The other woman edged backwards, face falling.
Nehna cursed, shaking her head.
"You know, interrogation and kidnapping aren't always the most effective ways of getting the information you want," Varric grumbled.
"Leliana and I searched and searched for the Hero of Ferelden, wanting her to lead the Inquisition, but she was busy on her quest to end the Calling. We searched for Hawke too, but she had straight up vanished. We thought perhaps there was a connection there, but no." Cassandra shook her head. "It was you all along." Her voice was laced with venom as she cast her eyes on the dwarf.
"She's been through enough, hasn't she? Maker, I just wanted to give her a break."
"We needed her to lead the Inquisition. If Hawke had been at the Conclave, she could have saved the Most Holy. We could have stopped this disaster before it gained traction."
"The Inquisition has a leader, Cassandra!" Varric feebly gestured to Nehna, and Sera nodded enthusiastically.
"Not the one either of you wanted, clearly," Nehna said quietly. "And it's not Varric's fault. Even Hawke couldn't have stopped Corypheus at the temple."
"Varric is a liar, Inquisitor. He always has been, and always will." Cassandra scowled. "And we all know he will never be on the side of the Inquisition."
Varric bristled. "Hey, that's hardly fair -"
She cut him off with a withering glance. "After the Breach appeared, even when he knew damn well how much we needed Hawke... he refused. He said he had no idea about the Champion's whereabouts." Cassandra groaned. "Was that just one of how many lies you've been telling us, dwarf? To protect yourself? To betray us?"
"Cassandra." Nehna's voice was quiet but firm, and the other woman stopped immediately. "It won't help us now for you to keep attacking Varric, verbally or otherwise."
"Thank you," the dwarf sighed, but Nehna held her hand up for silence.
"And goading her like this won't help either, Varric," she reminded him icily. "Is there anything else you've been keeping from us, now I come to think of it? Critical information? Enemy locations? Maybe even the Hero of Ferelden's new hideout?" Nehna raised her brow.
Varric groaned. "I understand, alright? Don't need to keep rubbing salt in an old wound." She gave him an apologetic smile.
There was a long, tense silence. Sera scuffed her foot along the floor, muttering something to herself until Nehna caught her arm, shaking her head.
Cassandra turned away from Varric and Nehna and let out a heavy sigh. Her face looked ashen, more lined than usual. "I cannot," she began, before breaking off and starting again. Her throat sounded tight. "I cannot afford to think of... what might have been. There's too much at stake for me to even..." She shook her head glumly. "Just go, Varric. Now." It was the saddest Nehna had ever heard her sound since they'd discussed Anthony's death.
Without another word, the dwarf made his way to the stairs before turning back, throwing one final barb. "You know what?" Varric asked testily. "If Hawke had been at the Conclave, she'd be dead with all the rest of them. It wouldn't have been any better, and you're lying to yourself if you think otherwise."
His voice dropped. "I just wanted to help her, you know," he said, almost gently. "She's been through enough." Then he turned on his heel and left.
Cassandra shook her head in response.
"It's my fault," she whispered. "If I had explained it better, tried to convince him of the urgency... the risk..." Cassandra broke off. "I just swallowed his words, all his lies, and I didn't even try. I didn't give him any explanation, because it was obvious to me, and I didn't think..." The warrior looked close to tears. "I am such a fool."
Nehna led her over to a chair and sat her down. "It's alright, Cassandra," she murmured soothingly.
"Yeah, we're all fools, aren't we?" Sera added brightly. "We can't get everything right all the time, and we can't predict the future. No use getting strung up by the past, either." She patted her shoulder. "The way I see it is you're both in the wrong, but you're both in the right."
Cassandra blinked up at her, puzzled, and Sera only laughed. "Weird, isn't it? I know. But that's the way things are, sometimes, and trying to needle your way to the cure-all fix doesn't always work. Just got to shrug your shoulders, say, 'Piss down their throats,' and move on, you know? Works for me every time."
"Thank you," the other woman said. Her voice was slightly less wobbly now, although she was clearly still upset. Sera's words had put a half-smile on her face, though.
"Besides, even if you hadn't believed him and found Hawke, it might have just got messier," Nehna said gently. "She might have even refused."
"She's been through a lot," Cassandra agreed. "Anders wounded her greatly, and she went through in ten years the kind of things nobody should in even one. And she supported the mage rebellion, too. Do you really think Hawke would have willingly become a Chantry puppet?" She sighed. "She wouldn't have trusted me at all... but she was the only person I thought... we thought..."
Nehna gave her a gentle smile. "This isn't just about Varric, is it?" she asked softly.
Cassandra shook her head. "No, not really. Or Hawke, for that matter. It's about... me." The words sounded hesitant and unfamiliar on her tongue, but she couldn't stop. "It was my fault. I should have thought more and acted smarter. I should have been more careful. I don't deserve my place here." She threw her head into her hands and crumbled. Her back was soon shaking, wracked by tears that she had been barely holding back.
"There, there." Sera moved closer, wrapping an arm around Cassandra's shoulders. "We're here for you, Cassandra. No big, scary dwarves coming on my watch."
Cassandra tittered. "Scary?"
"Eh." Sera shrugged. "He's scary to all the idiots he points Bianca to, at least. They quiver like a leaf and start begging for mercy once she's at their throats."
"You know, you do belong in the Inquisition, Cassandra," Nehna grinned. "You're a perfect fit." When the other woman looked dazed, her grin grew even wider. "We're all fools here, stumbling through life. We wouldn't have a clue what to do if it wasn't for people like you who act like you do, so everyone else just follows along."
"You really believe so?" A hesitant smile was growing on Cassandra's face.
"I know so, on Dirthamen's honour." At her bewildered reaction, Nehna hastened to explain: "He's the god of secrets and knowledge, so if anybody would know where you belong, it's him. And I may not be the mouthpiece of the Creators, but I think he'd agree with me."
Sera rolled her eyes at that, as she always did when Nehna made reference to her Dalish roots, but it was less exasperated or aggressive than it had been months ago. Now, it was just the same mocking look she gave nearly everyone, and it soon disappeared as she nodded in agreement. "She's right, more or less. Stick the elfy shite, but you do belong with us."
"Is that supposed to make me feel better?" Cassandra exhaled deeply, but there was definitely a smile on her face now. "I suppose you're right, the two of you. Maybe if we'd found the Hero of Ferelden, or even Hawke, then Nehna would never have became Inquisitor. You're not what I pictured," she admitted bashfully, turning to face her, "but I've learnt now the things I assume seldom come to pass the way I expect them to."
"I think that's the same for us all," Nehna teased her.
"I have no regrets in serving an elf, or even an apostate. I have no regrets being here in the Inquisition either." Cassandra's smile grew larger. "I belong here."
"Sounds more like it," Sera agreed. "Now, who wants a drink or six?"
And that was how the two women found Varric later, having left Cassandra to relieve her remaining embarrassment and frustration on the courtyard training dummies.
"We managed to calm her down after you left," Nehna smiled, offering him a mug of ale that he drank gladly. Sera sat next to her, sliding an arm around her waist. "You probably don't need the crossbow anymore. Plus it might scare the rest of the patrons."
"Bah," Varric grunted, draining the mug and plopping it on the table. "Bianca won't hurt any of them, and they know it. She may have a hair-trigger temper, but she's loyal." He sighed. "But I didn't lie to the Inquisition, or keep secrets. I said what I thought was important at the time." He waved his hands helplessly.
"I know." She patted his hand comfortingly before teasing, "I'd have known by now, anyway. Your face is too expressive; you'd make a terrible liar."
"You're not wrong," he agreed. "I never did get the hang of hiding my tells in diamondback. Now, Solas on the other hand -"
"Eurggh, do we have to talk about Droopy now? Not when we're having fun, Varric," Sera groaned.
"Not a big fan of Chuckles, are you?" Varric laughed.
"Pfft, no. That's like thinking a nug makes a good supper."
"According to Paragon Varen, they do. You know, after he discovered they were edible, they made him a Paragon because he reshaped dwarven cuisine from the ground up. Literally."
"Nope. Definitely don't want to think about roast nugs." Sera wrinkled her face up in disgust. "That's just gross."
Varric sighed. "You know, I just keep hoping all of this will just... disappear. That it'll all turn out to be Fade bullshit, and we can just get on with our lives and go back to normal."
"Sadly, I don't think Alexius had a hand in this," Nehna joked.
He shook his head. "No, no, Cassandra was right. I know I need to do better, and I..." Varric swallowed. "I'm sorry. I really am."
"I know," Nehna said gently. "You're doing the best you can, same as everyone else. That's all we can do."
"And you're doing a better job than most," Sera added. "At least your stories cheer people up and make them laugh. You're just what Skyhold needs after a long, dreary day, so don't you go forgetting that, yeah?"
Varric perked up at their words. "Maybe there's some truth in that." He tilted his head. "Or maybe it's just the ale talking," he mused. "Speaking of ale, do you think we could get another tankard?"
"He's got the right idea," Sera agreed, nudging Nehna, who sighed and went off in search of more.
She hoped none of them saw the way her face fell as she thought about the day's events. Varric had lied to the Inquisition, even if it had only been by omission... and then Cassandra had nearly tried to kill him. Perhaps the two of them had had good intentions, and done what they thought was best, but they had both made a pig's ear of it.
Nehna sighed, desperately trying to keep it together. This is not how organisations are supposed to work. They don't just falter and crumble from little arguments. She wondered how long it would be before those two were on speaking terms again.
The Inquisition was supposed to be better than this, she thought glumly.
"Hey, miseryguts. You going to order or just stand there like a thundercloud?" Cabot called out to her, disrupting her thoughts. "Oh, and don't try spilling it to me. I don't get paid enough to be a therapist."
"Sorry, Cabot." Nehna shook her head, giving him an apologetic smile. Don't let them see your hurt, the Keeper had told her before she'd left for the Conclave. The shem world will only use it against you. "Could I have two tankards of ale?" She popped a few sovereigns on the counter.
"Two?" The dwarf looked surprised.
"Two," she confirmed. "One for my companions and... I need to forget a few things."
"Well, you've come to the right place," he grunted. "Just wait along there and I'll pour it for you. One of the girls can bring it over." He filled one before beginning to pour in the other.
"No need. I can carry them myself."
He raised an eyebrow at that. "Just be careful. They're heavy, and I don't have new clay coming out my ears to replace them."
"I'll be careful," Nehna promised him, holding them tightly and gingerly making her way back to the table.
Varric and Sera looked up in surprise.
"Two?" her lover gasped.
"Think of it as a little gift to smooth out some Inquisitorial bumps," Nehna suggested, sitting down and pouring three mugs for them.
Varric grinned. "Have I ever told you you're the best Inquisitor in Thedas?"
"Not in as many words. You could buy me a few more rounds more often, though."
"That's the spirit."
"Honey tongue!" Sera gave her cheek a sloppy kiss, leaving Nehna slightly flustered but smiling.
Varric winked and raised his mug. "To love," he teased. "May it never be the death of us all."
"To love," Nehna smiled, clinking her mug with his and stroking Sera's cheek in return. Maybe I'm not so bad at this, after all.